Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Orchard End Murder

As with Saxon Logan's wonderful "Sleepwalker" (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), the story of "The Orchard End Murder" will surely strike a chord with aspiring directors and lovers of British Cult Cinema.
Christian Marnham's 49m 43s film was released in 1980, and was screened as support act to Gary Sherman's "Dead and Buried."
Now, almost 40 years later, "The Orchard End Murder" has been resurrected as part of the BFI essential 'Flipside' series, beckoning newcomers and those who caught it first time round.
As well as directing, Christian Marnham also wrote the screenplay which was inspired by a local murder case which came to his attention.
The result is a black comedy with some wickedly funny lines, and also genuinely disturbing in places.

A crane shot of a village cricket game in Kent introduces a stunningly beautiful locale, where Mike Robins (Mark Hardy) romps with new love interest Pauline (Tracy Hyde)
while waiting his turn to bat.
Pauline is very much a city girl and soon becomes tired of her escape to the country, keen to be released from a ritualised setup where familiarity is all.
Her wanderings lead to the railway station where the stationmaster (Bill Wallis) invites her in for tea and cake.
This cosy English tradition is made increasingly disconcerting by the close attention of her new acquaintance, and things come to a head with the arrival of Ewen
(Clive Mantle):house guest of some three months standing who horrifies Pauline with a brutal act.
Now the scene is set for a particularly graphic murder, which launches a police investigation in this sleepy village.

For a mini-feature running under 50 minutes, "The Orchard End Murder" packs so much into its running time.
First of all, the characters are beautifully drawn and complex. Bill Wallis' station master belies his initial appearance as a simpleton, exhibiting a cool, devious mind and well
capable of talking himself out of almost anything, while Clive Mantle also excels, with Ewen's mentally unstable mind carrying him just short of Buttgereit territory.
Tracy Hyde also delivers an excellent performance as a sexually active female who finds the countryside can be even more of a threat than her beloved towns and cities.
Of course, the graphic murder is hard-hitting in the extreme, but there's plenty of quite wonderful humour to be found elsewhere in the film - do listen out for the side-splitting 'apples' gag - and even the story about the double railroad suicide is told with a twinkle. The location is almost a character on its own, combining beauty with a sense of dark foreboding with the scent of murder hanging heavy in the air.
This really is a small gem, and fully deserving of its place in the 'Flipside' collection.

The BFI Blu-ray presentation unveils a lovely transfer, with the bold, bright countryside colours looking like they were shot last week. Kudos to Peter Jessop's photography
which is beautifully captured by this 2K remaster taken from an original 16mm positive element.
The supplementary feature begin with "The Showman" (25m 45s).
This entertaining short from Christian Marnham tells the story of 63 year-old Wally Shufflebottom. Wally is the 'Last Showman', who gives the public what they really want by devising and staging a striptease knife-throwing act with flames thrown in for good measure.
We bear witness to Wally's methods of drawing in the crowds, how he enlists the girls to participate and the shows themselves.
At the outset, Wally makes some pretty bold claims, but actually keeps to most of his promises to deliver an entertaining show.

"Christian Marnham on The Orchard End Murder". (37m 26s)
Christian recalls his first job (in rep theatre); tells of his progression to the cutting room and how he graduated into television.
We hear about his partnership with Julian Harvey - who suggested doing a film for the cinema - and there's much praise for cast and crew, including Tracy Hyde, DOP Peter Jessop and Sam Sklair who did the score.
Christian is refreshingly honest about mistakes made along the way, and has some good news concerning future projects.

"Christian Marnham on The Showman." (4m 40s)
Christian explains how the idea for "The Showman" began after a chance meeting at a fairground, and talks about his utmost confidence in Wally who emerged as an expert in this dangerous craft.
We're also privy to a huge problem which reared up before the shoot, and the steps that were taken to overcome it.

"From Melody to Orchard End Murder: An interview with Tracy Hyde." (11m 19s
Tracy talks about her career, recalling the Orchard End shoot and "Melody": the film that won her 'Best Actress' in Japan, at such a tender age.
She returns Christian's praise, speaking well of her director and has good memories of the film, even accepting some of the less glamorous aspects of the shoot.

"An Interview with David Wilkinson." (12m 28s)
David recalls how Christian persuaded him to appear as a batsman in Orchard End, and gives a resume of his prolific career.
He talks about his fellow actors in the film; how impressed he was with the production and has some surprising news about the financial result earned by Orchard End.

The BFI includes a booklet with this dual format release, which contains a beautifully written essay from Josephine Botting; a fine piece on "The Showman" by Vic Pratt; colour stills, credits, notes on the transfer and an original review from Tim Pulleine.
"The Orchard End Murder" will be available to buy on 24th July .

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Blu-ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Based on Charles Neider's novel "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones", "One-Eyed Jacks" was originally slated for Stanley Kubrick to direct.
Instead, the baton was handed to Marlon Brando for his first and only film as director. Guy Trosper and Brando wrote the screenplay, which turned out to be
a major revision of its source, and the film is now widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Brando himself headlines as Rio; a headstrong apprentice to Dad Longworth (Karl Malden). Together, the pair stage holdups which relieve law abiding folks of cash and jewellery.
Their latest heist - two bags of gold from a bank - sees them chased out of town by Mexican mounted police.
Holed up in the mountains and facing seemingly insurmountable odds, the pair decide one of them will strike out in search of fresh horses after Rio's mount is killed,
leaving the other to wait behind in a perilous situation.
Dad rides off into the sunset, never to return, leaving Rio to be captured with a jail term the result of his trust.
Deprivation of freedom, instigated by a revered friend, must have been a bitter pill that proved impossible to swallow and Rio escapes after 5 years in jail, with a burning desire for revenge.
Rio is soon on course for a long-awaited reunion when a conversation with outlaw Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) points him at towards the town of Montorey.
During the town's annual fiesta, the bank closes for two days,leaving potentially rich picking for Rio and his gang.
Rio soon gets the chance to meet with Dad, who is Sheriff of the town. During one of many memorable scenes, Rio rides out to call on Dad, with the latter resting on his front porch, observing Rio from behind bars reminding Rio of the jail that accounted for 5 years of his life.
There's now a real hatred between the pair, but love soon rears its head as Rio and Longworth's stepdaughter Louise (Pina Pellicer) fall for each other, leaving Rio with a choice to make.

Relationships old and new play a key part in proceedings here, with even Dad and his wife (played by Katy Jurado) clashing over Dad's increasingly cruel behaviour.
Witness the scene where Rio is brutally whipped and has his trigger hand badly damaged by his former friend, making Dad a particularly odious villain, closely followed by Amory and Slim Pickens' sleazy deputy in the forces of evil stakes.
Even Rio has his dark side, and it's fascinating to observe his good and bad splits fighting to hold sway.
Brando quite simply was superb on both sides of the camera, and if one approached this film with no prior knowledge, it would be difficult to discern anything other than the director was a seasoned filmmaker.
While it's true that "One-Eyed Jacks" went over budget - some 5 hours of footage no longer exists - the end result is a treat for the eyes, with Brando's wait for magic hour shots and the right kind of waves paying dividends.
Here, the photography of Charles Long Jr uses deep focus shots and panoramic sweep to capture cast and scenery in exemplary fashion.
This was the last Paramount film to be shot in Vistavision, and we must be thankful that Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg made this stunning restoration possible, banishing previously inadequate home video versions.

Aspiring actors and directors would do well to study this film, while the rest of us will be enthralled while possibly regretting this was Brando's only time in the director's chair. Maybe his standoff with Paramount regrading the ending left a bitter taste that wouldn't wash away?
Whatever the reason, he certainly made his mark as an accomplished director and his film remains one of the great Westerns.

The 4K rstoration on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation is, along with "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia", one of this year's best.
Interior and exterior scenes boast fine detail, warm colours and, at times, are simply breathtaking.
The supplementary features begin with a commentary track from author Stephen Price who wrote "Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies."
Stephen picks out Peckinpah's influence on the script; draws comparisons with other westerns; talks about the revised ending and praises Brando's meticulous approach to filming. It's an enjoyable, highly informative track.

"Marlon Brando: The Wild One." (53m 43s)
This documentary was originally broadcast by Channel 4 on 11th August, 1996. Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Francis Ford Coppola and Arthur Penn
are just some of the artists interviewed in this valuable tribute to Brando.
The actors studio, early stagework and just what it was like to be touched by Brando's brilliance are all discussed, with clips from the likes of "On The Waterfront",
"A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Last Tango In Paris". Paul Joyce's absorbing documentary is required viewing for all Brando buffs, with great stories and insight from those who were there when the magic happened.

"Francis Ford Coppola on Marlon Brando." (48m 30s)
Paul Joyce interviews Francis, who talks about a genius he rates alongside Welles and Kurosawa, and who left a legacy for actors everywhere.
We hear about how Brando landed the "One-Eyed Jacks" gig and of course, there's plenty of insight and anecdotes regarding "The Godfather". Coppola had a tough battle to
add Brando to his fine cast, and goes into the trials and tribulations of coming up against a stubborn film company.

"Arthur Penn on Marlon Brando>" (44m 49s)
Once again, Paul Joyce takes the microphone for another interview. As with Coppola, his Arthur Penn interview was recorded for the documentary, comprising of familiar material with plenty of additions. Brando's work with Stella Adler; his improvisational skills regarding the intent of words and the first time Penn saw Brando at work are just some of the areas discussed. It's also well worth a second hearing regarding Penn's ice cube story and Coppola's 'gong' gag.
There's also a 2m 55s introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese, and a 4m 44s trailer.

Arrow includes, on this first pressing only, a collectors booklet (which I haven't seen) containing new writing on the film by Jason Wood and Filippo Olivieri; Karl Malden on Marlon Brando; Paul Joyce on "Marlon Brando: The Wild One" and an excerpt from Stefan Kanfer's "Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando."

"One-Eyed Jacks" is available to buy now, and a surefire contender for those 'Discs of the Year' lists.